Millikin University Has A New Front Door

Since builders first broke ground on November 6, 2015, for the new University Commons building at Millikin University, this structure has turned into a ground-breaking innovation for students and faculty alike.

A Crossroads and a Conversation Place

The idea of combining not only the library and dining hall into one building, but also adding all the other areas of student activities, has been a defining element in this one-of-a-kind campus addition. With the exception of Shilling Hall, an original Millikin structure erected in 1902, the new University Commons, an 87,000-square-foot building, is the largest building project in university history.

Millikin University President Dr. Patrick White said, “People have asked me if it turned out as well as I expected, and it turned out so much better than I expected.” He went on to say that there had been a plan for a new university center for several years to tear down the existing student union building and put it in the same spot; later, they decided to see what could be accomplished by combining several buildings into one.

President White said, “That’s when we came up with the idea of the concept of what we call the University Commons, which is our Main Street, it’s our conversation place, it’s our Front Door, it’s our crossroads, it’s all of these things together.”

The University Commons houses the Center for International Education, the renovated Staley Library, along with the dining hall which is divided into two separate areas—a sports café with several televisions and an arts Millikin University continued MAKING café with a stage and sound equipment for performances. White added, “We solved an architectural problem as well as an intellectual and philosophic problem of how to bring an entire university campus together in the 21st century.”

Encouraging Fluidity, Collaboration, and Socializing

President White noted how the students flow in and out of the different floors of the building where they are gathering to work, to talk, to hang out, to meet people, or even to study. There are many rooms to be used as collaboration studios as well as the office of student development. All in that same area, other student-focused services have their place: the writing center, the math center, and the office of student success. White said, “Those can be stigmatized as places to go when you are having trouble. We placed this on the same floor as the office of student development as a sign that these resources are for everybody.”

In this same building where students might seek assistance on academic projects, they have access to one of the most noteworthy campus spaces. White explains, “On the first floor, there is the Doug and Diane Oberhelman Center for Leadership Performance which is an enormously important space for us because it’s named after and donated by Doug Oberhelman, the recently retired president of Caterpillar, Inc. who is a Millikin alum.”

There are spaces designated for the school newspaper, the school radio station, the arts center, and the new technologies lab. All of them are equipped with the latest tools and equipment students need to be successful. Additionally, the building houses a special room called the Think Tank—an all glass structure, except for a white board where students work together to solve problems, whether they are studying organic chemistry or nursing.

Free-Flowing Architecture

The entire building is a beautiful, free-flowing architectural form that reaches five stories. Although one might imagine that noise would be an issue with this type of building, that has not been the case. The rooms that need to be quiet are perfectly silent; however, in the other areas where students gather to talk, laugh, and watch televisions—or even use the performance stage with microphones—they are welcome to be as loud as they like.

On the fourth level is a large meeting space with a vaulted ceiling; that area, which is dividable into two rooms, can seat 180 people for dinner. There is a large board room and presidential dining space as well as some office spaces. There are no classes there yet, but next semester, as classes are added, the building will be even more active. Jessa Wilcoxen, Associate Professor and Chair of the Arts Technology Department, said that the Media Arts Center will host classes covering a range of topics such as web design and development, digital photography, graphic design, animation, digital video, marketing, and digital arts. She added, “It’s exciting for all of us as we begin to bring real clients into this new space. I know I am not just speaking for the Arts Technology Department when I say that this new space is one that we can all be proud of.”

While thrilled about the Mac computers with the latest industry-specific software and advanced presentation capabilities afforded to both students and faculty, Wilcoxen notes they are perhaps most excited to share “the creative work that is made in this new space with the campus and greater Decatur community through venues such as the Arts Technology Expo in December, BFA graphic design exhibitions in the spring, and through work created for clients through student ventures such as Ignite Studios or in other classroom experiences or digital galleries.”

The Village of Millikin

President White shared that he enjoys walking through the building, smiling at the students, professors, and staff and asking them how they are enjoying their new building, one of three major campus projects included within Millikin’s $85 million “Transform MU” capital campaign. He told the story of seeing a young female transfer student. She sat on one of the couches and put her feet up on the mushroom-shaped stool; she was settling in, as though this space served as her living room, and she was going to get comfortable to finish her work.

White concluded by saying, “All the disparate parts of the university are combined so that all students can come together in this village of Millikin. The outside is good, old-fashioned, reddish brick, and the inside is almost futuristic. People say it’s a beautiful building, and it is a beautiful building; or they say this is a terrific space, and it is a terrific space; but it’s only going to be a great space for Millikin if it’s constantly humming and singing with the activity of performance learning.”

About the Author
Sheila Wagner has spent the last several years working as a professional editor and recently became the staff writer for Private University Products and News. Wagner can be reached at